It must be terrifying for other NBA teams that Charlotte Hornets point guard LaMelo Ball has gotten this good, this quickly. When he was drafted with the third overall pick in 2020, his slight frame and unorthodox style of play were supposed to create a learning curve that would eventually pay off without necessarily producing immediate results.
You can throw all that out the window. LaMelo is a star. End of discussion.
Ball announced his presence with authority on Wednesday night, going toe-to-toe with arguably the league's best player, Giannis Antetokounmpo, in a duel that neither will soon forget. On the defending champions' home floor, Ball scored a career-high 36 points, including eight 3-pointers (also a career-high), while collecting nine assists, five rebounds and three steals for the game. He also knocked down a cold-blooded, contested 3-pointer to tie things up with just under six seconds remaining.
This play not only shows Ball's improved 3-point shooting (up to 39 percent from 35 percent last season) and his willingness to take big shots -- but it also shows his intelligence. Trailing by three with under 10 seconds left, Ball knew that the Bucks would look to foul if he dawdled too long with the ball. So he rose up into his shot motion almost instantly, before Pat Connaughton could even think about fouling him, and buried the clutch, contested 3-pointer.
Unfortunately for the Hornets, the Bucks still had time left on the clock for Mr. Antetokounmpo to work his magic. The reigning Finals MVP drove through the lane, contorted his body, and made a tough reverse layup with two seconds left to give the Bucks a 127-125 win.
Antetokounmpo finished with 40 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, outdoing Ball, but showed the ultimate respect for the second-year star by seeking him out after the game for a jersey swap.
It's one thing for young players to put up numbers for a bad team, but Ball has proven that his production translates to winning. According to NBA.com, the Hornets' net rating is 8.3 points better per 100 possessions with Ball on the court, and Charlotte is currently in play-in position after reaching the postseason during Ball's rookie year. Games like Wednesday night prove that Ball is ready to be discussed as a franchise player right now, despite only being a 20-year-old in the infancy of his career.